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March 2016

Film Review - Pandemic


The end of the world is transformed into a first-person shooter in “Pandemic,” the first of two movies this month that stage unspeakable acts of violence from a chaotic perspective (the other, “Hardcore Harry,” is due out next week). Combining ferocious visions of murder and self-preservation with tender missions of familial protection, the feature, directed by John Suits, strives to be a more meaningful horror story, working to establish humanity behind every irrational decision. Unless you happen to be a major fan of extended sequences set in dark hallways, there’s nothing overtly impressive about “Pandemic,” but its working parts are engaging, watching Suits build his own doomsday with a limited budget and an extended visual gimmick. Read the rest at

Film Review - Frank and Cindy


The reasons behind the production of “Frank and Cindy” aren’t especially clear. The story of Frank Garcia and Cynthia Brown was originally explored in a 2007 documentary, directed by their son, G.J. Echternkamp, who decided to introduce some overdue family therapy by turning the camera on his dysfunctional parents, allowing them a chance to share their illnesses with the world. Nine years later, Echternkamp returns to the tale, this time dramatizing the doc, hiring Rene Russo and Oliver Platt to play his trouble guardians. Granted, the opportunity to portray such fallible people doesn’t come around every day, and the leads are up for the challenge, delivering vulnerable, memorable performances. However, little else sticks during the viewing experience, which comes across self-serving at times, with Echternkamp making himself the lead character. Read the rest at

Film Review - I Saw the Light


One day, a filmmaker is going to come along and mastermind a music bio-pic that’s about a passably functional human being, concentrating on the artist and their achievements, refusing to obsess over their abyssal flaws. Until that day arrives, we’re stuck with “I Saw the Light,” a particularly dismal exploration of the life and times of country singer Hank Williams. Instead of inspecting the performer’s creative drive, writer/director Marc Abraham (“Flash of Genius”) focuses almost exclusively on Williams and his troubling behavior with women, almost forgetting at times that the subject was a widely adored musician. “I Saw the Light” is tedious and roughly designed, though a star turn from Tom Hiddleston is the only truly committed aspect of the production, nailing a tricky performance while working with a frightfully vague script. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Girl in the Photographs


“The Girl in the Photographs” is credited as a final picture in the career of executive producer Wes Craven, who passed away in 2015. It seems fitting that the helmer would have interest in this production, as it periodically plays like a “Scream” knockoff, only instead of challenging genre formula, it dissects the world of fashion and art photography, trying to come up with a fresh take on aged slasher ingredients. “The Girl in the Photographs” is tremendously gory and aggressive, hoping to scare through acts of blunt trauma, but co-writer/director Nick Simon elects the meditative route with pedestrian material, generating more yawn than shrieks with this monumentally tedious feature. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kill Your Friends


A former child actor (“About a Boy”) struggling to find roles that reflect his development into adulthood, Nicholas Hoult attempts to guide his career into a sinister direction with “Kill Your Friends.” Co-producing and starring in the picture, Hoult provides a secure performance in a lackluster film, and one that strives to be stylish, ruthless, and darkly comic. We’ve been down this road before, with “Kill Your Friends” basically taking what it wants from “American Psycho,” working through murder and madness without inspired wickedness to encourage audience investment. At least Hoult is trying to do something different, but his effort can’t prop up the feature, which slowly loses focus and timing, ending up an uninspired mess. Read the rest at

Film Review - Smothered


Every talent in Hollywood deserves a chance to try different genres, to spread their creative wings. For John Schneider, best known for his work on “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “Smallville,” “Smothered” represents an opportunity to shake up his directorial career, overseeing a cheeky comedy that pokes fun at horror icons and the celebrity convention grind, and offers a killer who uses her enormous breasts to suffocate her victims. Not bad for a guy who recently starred in “What Would Jesus Do?: The Story Continues.” “Smothered” isn’t entirely successful with comedy and thrills, but it does offer a chance for the men behind horror’s most famous masks a chance to expand their thespian horizons, with Schneider wisely leaning on their natural charisma to help the feature through some rough patches. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - After the Fox


1966's "After the Fox" provides an unusual cinematic collaboration that features star Peter Sellers, director Vittorio De Sica, and screenwriter Neil Simon. Behind-the-scenes alchemy doesn't get much stranger than that, and "After the Fox," while never consistent, benefits from its multi-cultural take on broad comedy. Genuinely funny in fits, the picture is held together by its spirit, keeping the effort interested in the next big joke or silly encounter, noticeably trying to throw a big screen party. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Gog


1954's "Gog" happily plays into the era's interest in monsters and mayhem, only here the force of evil is a man-made machine, while science is given more of a priority than the average production allows. Directed by Herbert L. Strock, "Gog" is a thriller that doesn't exactly thrill, but it's an entertaining collection of exposition and robot rampage, delivered in your face with a 3-D presentation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - When Eight Bells Toll


Once upon a time in European filmmaking, Anthony Hopkins was being groomed to be the next James Bond-type figure to dazzle audiences with tales of spying and seduction. 1971's "When Eight Bells Toll" is an attempt to transform the fiercely reserved performer into an action hero, working with source material from Alistair McLean, who adapts his own novel. Tough guy antics aren't a true fit for Hopkins, but "When Eight Bells Toll" is a serviceable thriller, embracing its odd take on smuggling and villainy with plenty of excitement and opportunities for the star to showcase his Connery side to a global audience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Forbidden Room


I think it's wonderful that Guy Maddin is continuing his exploration of underground cinema, refusing to compromise his vision to entice commercial success, sticking to a plan of impish, artful moviemaking that celebrates the abstract, his Canadian heritage, and the directorial process itself. He's an original, but that doesn't always make his efforts easy to endure. "The Forbidden Room" is the latest from "The Saddest Music in the World" and "My Winnipeg" director, and perhaps his most challenging feature to date, mixing visions, ideas, and humor to create a swirling galaxy of askew storytelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2


“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was the sleeper hit of 2002, emerging from out of nowhere to become the fifth highest grossing feature of the year (sandwiched between “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and “Signs”). Expectations for a sequel were immediate, but writer/star Nia Vardalos chased a television dream with 2003’s “My Big Fat Greek Life,” which effectively killed the brand name. 14 years later, Vardalos returns with “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” attempting to recapture the vibrant cultural energy that fueled the original effort. While the story takes a leap in time, the jokes do not, finding much of the follow-up struggling to land punchlines and massage character quirk. While amiable, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” is dull and overscripted, watching Vardalos spin too many plates as she strives to give everyone something to do. Read the rest at

Film Review - Get a Job


Compelling ideas on the entitled nature of millennials and the instability of long-term employment are explored in “Get a Job,” competing for screen time with scenes that feature a urine sample gone wrong and a character forced to drink a glass of deer semen in front of his co-workers. Iffy helmer Dylan Kidd (“Roger Dodger,” “P.S.”) tries to cushion hard truths about life with gross-out and marijuana humor, working diligently to dumb the picture down as far as it can go. It’s a shame, but perhaps “Get a Job” was never destined for greatness, with the picture finally seeing the light of day after completing production four years ago. After a viewing, it’s obvious why the producers lost interest in releasing it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Marguerite


While the potential for mockery is ripe, “Marguerite” would rather understand its blissfully unaware lead character, working to achieve a larger portrait of charity when confronted with an absence of talent. Writer/director Xavier Giannoli (“Superstar,” “In the Beginning”) generates a mildly comic tone to some of the picture, but he remains largely respectful of emotions and awareness, trying to shave down the absurdity that drives the plot of “Marguerite” with welcome sensitivity and three-dimensional personalities. A little consideration helps the movie achieve its dramatic goals, allowing the audience to grasp all the necessary displays of humiliation that pepper the feature and still come away with a sense of warmth and askew devotion. It’s an impressive juggling act from Giannoli. Read the rest at

Film Review - Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice


2013’s “Man of Steel” was the warning shot. Director Zack Snyder takes citywide destruction and wonky superhero world-building to the next level with “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” manufacturing a DC Comics answer to the ongoing work Marvel is doing to construct their seemingly bulletproof cinematic universe. Snyder isn’t aware that nuance is an option, looking to create the biggest, baddest event film possible while pouring the foundation for assorted superhuman characters to come. Even with a 150 minute run time, “Batman v. Superman” feels claustrophobic and needy, with the helmer digging into his shallow bag of tricks to bring two iconic characters to life. Instead of servicing patient storytelling, Snyder gets lost in his own limited ambition, frequently relying on his love for noise and numbing violence to make sense of a poorly written, acted, and edited effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pee-wee's Big Holiday


Considering his pop culture dominance, it’s strange to consider that the character Pee-wee Herman has only starred in two pictures, with the last, 1988’s “Big Top Pee-wee,” a tremendous financial and creative disappointment. Looking to restore a little mojo after decades away from the screen, actor Paul Reubens slips back into his old extra-small suit and refreshes his geeky mannerisms to revive Pee-wee for a new generation. “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” is certainly a pleasant production, giving the fanbase what they want through numerous set pieces highlighting Reubens’s special way with slapstick. Those expecting another “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” are sure to be disappointed with this effort, as Reubens and co-writer Paul Rust dial down idiosyncrasy, keeping “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” friendly, but rarely surprising. Read the rest at

Film Review - Krisha


When depicting the wreckage of substance abuse, a majority of movies tend to go the melodramatic route, flailing wildly to project a level of chaos normally associated with self-harm and chemical disorientation. “Krisha” is the rare feature to understand the insidious nature of addiction, playing it relatively calm and collected while gradually introducing an unsettling level of darkness, earning climatic explosions of accusatory behavior. A no-budget production that’s skillfully controlled by writer/director Trey Edward Shults, “Krisha” is harrowing work, diving into the abyss of dysfunction with stunning intimacy and creative confidence from the first-time helmer. Read the rest at

Film Review - Remember


The last ten years have been a strange creative period for director Atom Egoyan. Once the darling of independent cinema, Egoyan has spent the last decade gasping for oxygen, stumbling through unfortunate efforts such as “Devil’s Knot” and “Where the Truth Lies,” effectively erasing his brand name with cineastes. “Remember” isn’t a return to form for Egoyan, but it’s a step in the right direction, taking on a provocative story of memory and murder that plays with thriller elements effectively. Mistakes in tone and scripting eventually work to trip the feature up, but “Remember” has its share of riveting moments, buttressing an atmosphere of unease that’s alien to Egoyan’s recent work. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Woman in the Moon


A mere two years after stunning the world with his vision of the future in "Metropolis," director Fritz Lang returns to the business of ambition with 1929's "Woman in the Moon," a film credited with inspiring the evolution of space exploration. Using research of the day, Lang constructs an epic tribute to scientific visionaries and pulp literature, taking viewers on a unique journey that utilizes bold visuals and broad characters. Read the rest at